There are many good things done in the name of religion. And, there are many bad things done in the name of religion. Quite honestly, history shows us there is more in the second column than the first.
“Religion” points to a god or a deity, but it centers around man. It is man’s attempt to reach up to God and earn something with God. It will always be based on what man should do. It will almost always edify man. It will always consist of rules that man has devised or re-interpreted. And people will use it to abuse others.
Christianity confronts this in two ways:
First, while religion is man reaching up to God, Christianity is God reaching down to man. There is a place for pride and judgment in religion because it centers around or includes man’s performance. Man can be at different levels. But there is no basis for pride or judgment in Christianity because it is based on Christ’s performance. We are all on the same level.
The second guard Christianity offers against religious abuse is the component of love. God’s love flows through us. Christ’s Spirit – living in us, loves through us. As he is present in our hearts, his love is present in our hearts.
What is the application for us? Don’t let your Christianity become a religion.
It is true that we respond to God, but religion gets it backwards. Religion is man’s attempt to reach up to God. The message of Christianity is that God reached down to us. Christianity is “Christ-centered” and “God-centered”. Religion is man-centered.
Religion will always require that we do certain things out of our own strength and our own power. It might be wearing certain clothing, saying a specific number of prayers, going to a specific church a certain number of times, fulfilling certain quotas of righteous actions, not doing particular behaviors, etc….
Religion is the idea that we do specific things that impact our standing with God.
But the true gospel message is that we don’t earn any standing with God. He gives us spiritual life only because of His grace work on our behalf. The true gospel message is that we cannot change ourselves, only God can change us by giving us a new heart and by indwelling our lives with His Holy Spirit.
Religion is not the answer. It shouldn’t even be the question.
So, have you been perfect today? Perfect in every action, every thought, every motive? What about yesterday? How about last week? Jesus said that we are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect. How are you doing?
Some people think that Jesus meant his statement to be God’s expectation for his children. He outlined the specific lifestyle that God demands of us. Thus, the guilt and sense of failure if we are honest.
Others say that Jesus was expressing the goal we are to shoot for. We can’t make it, but we should strive for it. We will at least get closer than we would if we weren’t aiming at it. In this scenario, the guilt and sense of failure is somewhat lessened because we get closer than some others. But Jesus did not say that we should just get closer than others. He said, “Be perfect.”
So, what is the meaning? Jesus was outlining the standard that we have to maintain if we want to be righteous in God’s eyes based on our own merit. Just be perfect. Every day. Every time. No exceptions. One strike and we are out.
I can’t do that. That’s why I need a Savior. That’s why I need the righteousness of Christ to be given unto me. That’s why I need to be justified by faith.